“I Coulda’ Had a V8” – Social Media in the Real World

It’s been a while since I’ve dealt with the substance of Social Media.  There’s a reason for that.  Mostly its become that which I always said it would: simply a tool in the toolbox of the community developer.

So where are we now, really?  We’ve certainly passed the point where Social Media was the next big thing.  While not all the cool kids have moved on, there are signs that even the most ardent NMDBs are tired of the endless prognostication and the vapid cries to “join the conversation.”

So let us pose this question: what if we tossed up a social media community and no one showed?  Is that the point that we realize that there’s more to this thing than A round financing and having a kickin’ launch party?

Case in point (how to do it wrong): DeKupers launched a community last fall for bartenders.  On the surface, all the things we might have told them they needed to have: profiles, friending, pro tips, internal messaging, facebook connect,  etc.

It died quietly in its sleep about a month ago, with under 2k users (from what I saw in the user stats, just prior to the lights going out).  Even among those users, on the few times I checked in, I have to admit I never saw anything that approached a meaningful conversation.  However I do know that Tammy from Philly’s favorite drink to mix is a Screwdriver.  High art, that mixing of vodka and orange juice…

A second case in point (how to do it right): American Express built “Openforum.com” – the place where businesses (who use the Amex card) go to “Join the Conversation” about  “A new solution to help businesses get paid faster.”   Egads, it sounds as though they didn’t even bother changing the names off the Social Media 101 presentation they watched. Luckily, they appear to have worked their way through that faux paux.

Inside, they’ve got compelling content from the likes of Guy Kawasaki, Adam Ostrow of Mashable, Shira Levine of Business Insider, etc.  Since we certainly don’t have any other place to go to grab that content.  Heck, Guy is so stretched thin over the net, he’s has not one, but two, ghost tweeters handling his twitter stream.  Forget “joining the conversation” just pay someone else to do it for you…

The two spikes in traffic I believe are tied to media spends, particularly tv ads I saw during those periods.  Amex touts the site as a success, and I won’t disagree with them.  But let’s consider this: three years to grow to this point, from a captive audience of businesses using the Amex “Open” credit card of…(sorry, can’t get details on that, but it’s got to be substantial).

My point is this: American Express had a boat load of dollars, a captive pool of members, and it took them 3 years to get to a relatively comfortable traffic level.  What we don’t know (and can’t know from Compete.com, the numbers just aren’t good enough) is how active the members are and how often they turn up on the site.

Rubber Meets the Road

So where are most communities falling down?

  • Hey gang, let’s put on a show” – the idea is utterly ill conceived and not thought through.
  • Build it and they will come” – communities don’t spring up in the middle of no where.
  • Set it and forget it” – it may work for Ron Popeil , but it doesn’t work for communities.
  • The overgrown garden” – Like good gardens, good communities must be tended.
  • Marketing, we don’t need no stinkin’ marketing” – yeah, who’d actually want to publicize their community.
  • Welcome, please submit DNA sample here…” – the age old issue – mile long registration forms that’d make the IRS green with envy.  We’ll know everything about our users.  Both of them…
  • Okay, we’re launched, where do I cash my check…” – best of luck to you.  The big secret is that most Social Media communities run in the red…for years.

Moving Forward

So where the heck do we go now? The shine is off, and we’re starting to realize that this stuff is, uh, real work.  Even better, it’s got a real possibility of it crashing down around our heads if we screw it up.

I see us at the same point we were at in 2002.  Yes, some folks made mistakes and tanked.  It happens.  From here out you’ve got to get all your stuff in line.  No screwing around…be serious or stay home.  CupcakeCon, NMDBcamp and any place that bad powerpoint presentations go to die is a waste of your time.  Find the people who are really doing it and learn from them.  Hint: those won’t be the big names in SM.

Best advice:

  • Have a niche and a natural path to community – owning computers is no longer enough of a reason to bring a community together.  Find a niche that is under served and serve it.  Or find one that is poorly served and steal it.  The trick will be to be narrow enough in focus to keep it real, but not so narrow that there are only an handful of potential users.  Think about that natural pool of users that American Express has…
  • Find the three key features that the community needs – look for the features that the community needs and doesn’t have.  Don’t worry about anyone copying your idea…do it, then add more.  Let them all play catch up.
  • Devote resources (people) to running the place – everyone wants to belong to a place where they’re made to feel at home.  Have people to help, especially if you’re dealing with a less tech savvy bunch.  Moderate, curate and cultivate…
  • Preach the Gospel – yeah, you have to get the word out.  You’re gonna live this thing if your going to make it a success, so be your own ringmaster.  Market in every possible way…

In summary, is Social Media dead? Absolutely not, but it is certainly changing.  The “new car smell” is gone, and as developers and community managers, we need to adapt to survive.

How Google Will Ruin the Cloud

I really enjoy having access to my stuff in the cloud.  Docs I can pull down anywhere, anytime, mail that isn’t tied down to a single machine, etc.

Unfortunately, there are problems with the cloud, and with handing off services to companies like Google, which most of us aren’t thinking of.

Over the past couple months I have had 4 major problems big cloud based services.  In each case, save one, it was impossible to get actual customer service from the company to resolve the issue.  Not only could I not get a person on the phone to fix my problem, there wasn’t an email, or in fact, any way whatsoever to contact the people responsible for the service.

Now I am not talking about Joe’s Web Service and Tattoo Palor.  I am talking about Google and Yahoo, and their services FeedBurner, Picasa and Flickr.  It wasn’t like I was asking the world, simply to get access to my content, account, etc. and in each case I was unsuccessful at getting any level of response.

None…zip…nadda.

So ask yourself, how will you feel when you go to fire up your big presentation at ToolCamp 2014 and you find you can’t access, then to compound the problem, you find that you cannot even get email support, much less someone on the phone.

Its widely known in technology circles that Google hates people.  They don’t want to interact with us on a personal level at all, preferring to let us talk to each other in Google Groups.  This is all fine and dandy, right up until the point that they have something wrong in their system that needs to be corrected.

The model cannot work.  We shouldn’t accept it, and we certainly shouldn’t count on it.  The cloud is powerful, but its doomed if we’re expected to fly without a customer support net.  No matter how good your system is, its going to have problems and at that point you (Mr. Google) need to actually talk to the customers you just screwed, so you can fix their problems.

Don’t hold your breath.

Demand Media and the New Economy of the Journalist

Demand Media has been a constant topic of conversation among online journalists of late.  It all began with this article in Wired entitled “The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model“.

Plenty of other companies — About.com, Mahalo, Answers.com — have tried to corner the market in arcane online advice. But none has gone about it as aggressively, scientifically, and single-mindedly as Demand. Pieces are not dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and keyword rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertisers will pay to appear next to the answers.

Demand Media is what we’d generally call a content mill.  Instead of the old days of the newspaper where the editorial and advertising teams eyed each other distrustfully, in this case, the entire editorial side is essentially outsourced, and it’s done at rates that would make any professional writer cringe. From their Wikipedia page:

Contributors choose among available titles that were previously identified by the company’s algorithm. They are paid once their work has been automatically checked for plagiarism[7] and is approved by editors. Typical compensation is $20 for a video clip, $15 for an article of a few hundred words, $2.50 for copy-editing an article and $1 for fact-checking an article.[6]

To put that into context, I used to write similar content online for a rate of $500.00 per article.  Ouch!

For the record, there’s a huge gulf between what you buy for a $20 article and a $500 article.  In the $20 version, I’d suggest that some of the little things go out the window, such as revision, or perhaps even contacting sources.  Wired puts it well:

Nearly every freelancer scrambles to load their assignment queue with titles they can produce quickly and with the least amount of effort — because pay for individual stories is so lousy, only a high-speed, high-volume approach will work. The average writer earns $15 per article for pieces that top out at a few hundred words, and the average filmmaker about $20 per clip, paid weekly via PayPal.

The question I have in mind is this:  at what point does Google start to put some weighting behind their search results that will,instead of just promoting stories that are well optimized for SEO, help good content rise to the top?

In This Week in Google’s latest podcast, Matt Cutts, spam guru at Google made the statement that 2010 would be a bad year for low value content, when Leo Laporte pressed him on the issue (note: this is not a direct quote, I’m going by memory here, but the gist is fairly clear…).

How do I think they could add value to search results?  A few suggestions:

  • Leverage the actual search experience of real users with vote up, vote down, hide capability.
  • Identify and utilize subject matter experts to fine tune results.
  • Allow us to add weight to the search experience of our friends (note: that doesn’t simply mean using everyone in our contacts list!).

In the long run, fixing this hole may make things a lot harder for those of us who do SEO optimization as part of our services.  However, I’ve got to think that things only improve for those who use the only time proven SEO tactic I know: providing good pertinent content in a tight, well ordered presentation.

The thing that truly worries me is what this portends for journalists.  We’ve seen steady erosion in jobs for journalists over the past couple years, as newspapers and magazines cut back.  Now it would seem that even online their services are devalued.  Is there room in this new online economy for good content at a fair price?

I certainly hope so…

The Blogs as Aggregator

Over the past two years, we’ve seen the genie come out of the bag on blogging.  In the good old days if you wanted our content, you came to our blog.  Now, our content is being automatically posted in a bunch of spots, perhaps on Facebook, Google Buzz, Google Reader, and even the headline shows up on Twitter.

Then we throw our participation on those other sites in, and now we’re all over the place.  It’s hard for us to keep up with everything we’re doing, but our readers are at best getting an incomplete picture.

So I pose this question: should not our blog be the place where all of our participation is aggregated? Maybe this site indeed should be “All Things Cahill” as the name implies.

There are several problems:

  • We need to filter for unique content.  The recent Google Buzz launch has shown that cross posting between services can lead to some truly weird looping problems.  Multiple copies of the same post start to show up as Buzz posts to Twitter and Twitter sends to Buzz.  Honestly, I’m surprised some of you haven’t unraveled the fabric of the universe…
  • What about the unique flavor of those services?  Personally, I like the distinct difference between my Twitter posse, the Facebook crowd and my audience here.  They’re all different communities and the idea of tying them all together here might be somehow denigrate that.  For the record, Facebook tends to be my long time friends, the folks I have physically met, whereas Twitter is a more general distribution.
  • Does removing the message from the service remove it from it’s context?  Quite probably, esp. in the situation that my comment is part of the ongoing discussion.

So I ask the question: does it make sense attempt to pull in as much as possible from around the web?  Obviously twitter is here, how about Google Buzz, Foursquare, Yelp, etc.?

Deep down suspect we’d find overall the non-blog content is generally of much lower value.  Share your thoughts…

Mattel Adds SMDB Barbie

Mattel today announced they’ve add “Social Media Douche Bag” to the list of Barbie’s professions.  The new Barbie, which comes complete with it’s own iPhone, iPad and Twitter account will hit store shelves soon.

“This career just kind of happened.” notes Mattel product coordinator, Roberta Smith.  “We had a ton of left over ‘Journalist Barbies’ and ‘Dental Hygenist Barbies’ and we had a quick look at where those folks were going when they were laid off, and there it was, ‘Social Media Douche Bag Barbie’.”

Smith notes that “It was surprisingly easy.  When we started looking into the profession, we couldn’t really find anything they really did. We did consider adding a voice chip that would tell everyone to ‘join the conversation’ but in the end, we felt that less was more.”

The project was not without it’s problems:

  • The new Barbie immediately monopolized access to the Barbie Dream Jet, flying around to conferences.
  • There were internal problems, when SMDB Barbie tried to tell Computer Programmer Barbie “she didn’t get it” and that you could “make up for lack of revenue with scale.”
  • SMDB Barbie had an annoying tendency to post confidential strategy on Twitter and Facebook.  Even worse, it signed a consulting deal with Hasbro and began divulging Mattel secrets.  Luckily, it had no real knowledge to share with the competition.
  • The doll kept demanding large checks for doing nothing.
  • The release date had to be postponed as SMDB Barbie “was presenting at SXSW” on the initial date.

If you’d like to own this doll, you should be aware there are some requirements for ownership:

  • You must have high speed broadband.  This doll uses bandwidth like you can’t believe, Twittering, Facebooking, and using virtually any other social network it can find. Except MySpace.  Cuz it’s not cool anymore.
  • You will be expected to wait in line at ToysRUs every time a new tech accessory is released.  A new android phone?  You’ll be buying it for her.  A new Apple lappie comes out, you will be waiting in the snow to buy it for her.
  • You must own the Barbie Dream Jet, Start UP CEO Ken, and the Barbie Dream Loft.
  • You may NOT have Skipper  or Computer Programmer Barbie.  They are utterly incompatible.

The Illusion of Privacy

The launch of Google Buzz this week has once again brought questions of privacy and social networking applications to the forefront.  Just as many of us have questioned over the past few years the repeated failure of Facebook to respect our privacy.

To my mind, this is a very simple thing: never post anything to any networking service that you wouldn’t want to see again.  Ever…

People have lost jobs over what they have posted on Facebook and elsewhere.  I have seen it several times personally.  Further, at some point you may need to search for a new job.  A prospective employer may see that photo of you doing belly shots off that Asian hooker in Vegas last year, and bang, you don’t get a call back.  In other words, it’s hurt you, badly, and you never even know it.

So right now, I bet a lot of you are saying “no problem, I’ll just clean up my profile if I need to do a job search.”  The problem is that content often gets scraped off sites and turns up in other places.  My content from this blog is regularly grabbed by sploggers and reposted elsewhere.  It’s almost impossible to get the content removed.  I’ve tried.  Further, to take our Vegas analogy further, what happens if Google grabs that picture in their image search?  Many bloggers use that service to find pictures to reusue, regardless of copyright.  What would you think if your little Vegas picture appeared here?

Remember this: any semblance of privacy online is an illusion.  From the beginning, your ISP could be logging what you do, Archive.org could be archiving the sites you post on, and Google could be indexing the images you post.  Once it’s out there, you have no hope of pulling the information back.  So think twice…and don’t put your faith in Facebook, Google or anyone else to respect your privacy.

The Day Social Media Went Mainstream – Google Buzz

Google decided that I was ready for Google Buzz this morning, and it magically appeared in my email console.  If you haven’t heard of it, watch this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yi50KlsCBio

On first take, when viewed inside of gmail, Google buzz seems to be a real yawn.  Just another place where you need to update statuses to keep in touch with folks. Exactly what I’ve been warning would become the death of social media, the great diaspora wherein we all end up on separate and unconnected platforms.

That was my initial opinion, and now I can see I was dead wrong.  This isn’t just another service, this very well could be THE service (I struggle to avoid LoTR analogies here).  You see think about all the Google services, mail, image hosting, url shortening, search, profile, translate, Youtube, all woven into a single semi-open platform.

Instead of bits and pieces, we have the whole ball of wax.  Then wrap in a nice little API which I assume they will offer and you have everything that Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media services aren’t – an all encompassing open social platform.

So what happens?  Buzz becomes the lynch pin for the service that allows them to take on Facebook.  Forget about Twitter, they are immediately an also ran service.  By the end of the week, my Mother will be following me on Buzz, something that will never happen on Twitter.  No, this is a Facebook killer of epic proportions.

Here’s how it goes.  They firm up the platform, get people used to using it, then they make a simple pitch: who do you trust – Facebook or Google?  At that point we all nod, and it’s “last one left on Facebook turn out the lights.”

This is the day when Social Media went mainstream.

NY Times: When iPhone Apps Are Too Smart

The big secret of iPhone apps is coming out of the bag: most apps that are downloaded are rarely, if ever used.

While I’m not saying we’ve jumped the shark here, it is important to note that if the New York Times has picked up on this fact, then it’s approaching common knowledge.  Read their article, “When iPhone Apps Are Too Smart” here.

So, for every zealous owner whose iPhone is loaded with little-known programs that predict asteroid fly-bys, there are many more Caroline Cuas, who seldom venture outside the predictable. Most say they’re too busy, too lazy or just plain flummoxed by the choices.

“I think I’m supposed to want more of them than I have,” said Julie Graham, a psychotherapist in San Francisco who echoed Ms. Cua’s vague anxiety. “There’s this sense that I’m missing out on something I didn’t know I needed.”

Ms. Graham, 50, said friends were shocked when she confessed to having failed to download Urbanspoon, a compendium of restaurant reviews. She now has it — and seldom uses it. “I don’t have time,” she said.

So what does it all mean?  I’ll put it simply: don’t put too much stock into how many times your iPhone app (or any other) was downloaded from the App Store.  More importantly, build in the appropriate mechanisms to allow you to find what the actual usage was.  Once again, it comes down to a pure matter of metrics.  How many page views, how many purchases, etc.

Similarly, we’ve got to bridge the gap between coding neat little apps that get downloaded and get to the point where we have serious apps that get used.

A few things to consider:

  • What is the core user need your app is fulfilling?
  • If there isn’t an existing need, what need are you creating?
  • Are you applying the tenets of online community building to maintain user interest?
  • What are the top apps you use?  What is it about those apps that makes them compelling to you?
  • Have you closely examined competitor apps?  What’s good about them?  What isn’t?  What can you do better?
  • What are the real metrics for your app?  Compare downloads vs. actual usage.
  • Talk with real iPhone app users, not the Tech/SM crowd.  What do they really use for apps?

Let me know what you see…I’d love to share info on this!

Geo Location Services and the Coming War for Our Whereabouts

Over the past few months I’ve been messing with Foursquare…the geo location service-based social network-game.  Frequent readers will possibly remember that I’m not a really big fan of sharing geo location information, even though I’m perhaps one of the few who has directly had his life saved by cell phone geolocation.

Foursquare is an interesting study.  By turning the geo location service into a game and allowing the most frequent visitors to locations to earn the title of  “Mayor” of that spot, as well as providing badges which users can earn for certain actions, they’re amassing a fairly comprehensive database of mostly bars and restaurants around the globe.  They’ve beautifully applied some of the best features of online communities in a way that has allowed them to expand at an exponential rate. Continue reading “Geo Location Services and the Coming War for Our Whereabouts”

DeLurker Day!

Today is DeLurker Day, the day in which bloggers like myself celebrate our readers by offering you an invitation to leave a comment.  I know there are a lot of you out there that read this blog almost daily, but as you know, there aren’t always a lot of comments.  Take the time and let us know who you are and what you like, don’t like and what you’d like to see here or in the world in general, in the coming year.

From Wikipedia, the definition of a lurker:

In Internet culture, a lurker is a person who reads discussions on a message boardnewsgroupchatroomfile sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively. Research indicates that “lurkers make up over 90% of online groups” (Nonnecke & Preece 2000).

So take a minute to drop a line and join our conversation!  We’ll all be glad you came. (A tip of the hat to Jeff Bennett for pointing me to this campaign)